Sorry, Steve Deace: ‘Identity Politics’ Isn’t an Idol, But the Bedrock We Must Build On

By John Zmirak Published on December 5, 2023

Last time I wrote about how tribalism and feudalism (or “identity politics”) have reasserted themselves, and reshaped American politics. That’s why Gavin Newsom can lie through his tiny, blinding teeth while reporters nod and smile. It’s also why Donald Trump was able to eat the GOP. As indeed he has, like a boa constrictor gulping a boar. You can watch the bump move slowly along his digestive tract.

You might deplore this development. It’s a definite falling off from the genuinely principled politics of say, Ronald Reagan — or the even more balanced and profound Patrick Buchanan. But out and proud tribalism and feudalism are a darned sight better than the phony, grifting platitudes that the likes of George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and Liz Cheney employed to pick our pockets, open our borders, put us all under Deep State surveillance, and lie us into stupid wars.

Their Tribe Wasn’t “America” But “International Business Class”

They were practicing identity politics too, behind a shoddy Halloween mask of pseudo-Reaganite “freedom and opportunity” yadda yadda. But the tribe to which the GOP establishment were loyal wasn’t “Americans.” It was a tiny, selective caste within the country: Rich, white suburbanites with investments in defense companies, who need cheap labor to mow their lawns and raise their entitled 2.1 planned children. That’s the set of self-appointed Brahmins who have dominated the GOP since at least 1992.

I’ll take Donald Trump chest-thumping and demanding my fealty like some Viking chieftain over “winsome” fake-Christian agitprop for open borders and lucrative wars any day of the week. (Yes, David French, I mean you.)

Are We All Tribalists Now?

Still, there’s a lot to worry about when it comes to Donald Trump’s shifting views and unpredictable loyalties. I was sitting down to write all that should worry us when I noticed that the gifted author and broadcaster Steve Deace had already done it for me. In grim, forbidding detail, and with his usual verbal panache:

The Democrats long ago created a political party built not on shared principles but on shared association. If you were a holy fire-breathing black pastor, you voted for the same candidates as the Rainbow Jihad. Not because of any shared principle, mind you, but out of recognition that you needed to share an association to gain the political power and access you believed were necessary to reward the faction you represent.

[T]he Republican Party is now on the precipice of becoming an identity-based party itself. Maybe it’s already there.

So far in the 2024 presidential primary, Trump has told us we can’t be pro-life any more, admitted he’s only talking tough on the debt now because he’s not in office, isn’t sure whether Jeffrey Epstein killed himself, doesn’t know if a man can become a woman, says he’d arm Ukraine even more than Biden already has, and just last week embraced a Black Lives Matter activist because he said nice things about him.

So far, so good. The downside of purely tribal politics is that it has no moral center, no guard rails, and in the long run no positive content. It’s just Us versus Them, “my tribe, right or wrong,” with the tribe not actually standing for anything beyond itself. It’s just collective selfishness, organized narcissism.

We Must Make Donald Trump Fear Us

That said, we must deal with reality as it stands, not as we wish it were. And the reality is that Donald Trump is almost certainly going to win the Republican nomination. His most likely rival, alas, isn’t the solid and sensible Ron De Santis, but pro-choice warmonger (and recent Boeing millionaire) Nikki Haley. If such facts change, let me know, and I’ll revise my opinion.

Those facts don’t mean we have to take Trump warts and all, and cringingly accept whatever scraps he remembers to throw us. Instead, we must become to Trump — and to any future GOP nominee in the future — what the LGBTQMYNAMEISLEGION lobby is to the Democrats: relentless, implacable zealots who make demands of candidates, who know that if they betray us we will act like Samson in the temple. As political philosophers have realized, an “intolerant 3%” of the population can wield more power than a squishy 51%.

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We must make it clear to every candidate that he should fear us more than we fear the Democrats. If we don’t get our key demands, we will simply refuse him our votes. We know that immigration determines whether America will survive, and abortion determines whether it deserves to. We aren’t interested in saving what God would condemn. We’re not going to break our necks campaigning for cleaner streets in Sodom, and new traffic lights in Gomorrah. We will sit back and watch it all burn. We must mean that and force Trump to see that we’re as serious as a societal collapse.

Too High-Minded to Put a Bathroom in Your House

So far I mostly agree with Deace. But he also makes a fundamental mistake in his argument. He condemns identity politics as “idolatry,” which Bible nerds will remember is the most fundamental sin which outrages God. If Deace were right, there would be no acceptable taint of feudalism or tribalism allowed, lest we earn God’s curse as the Israelites often did. As Deace writes:

I tremble every time I search the Scriptures for “that’s the best we can do” and come up empty. God doesn’t seem to accept a certain level of idolatry. He hates it, in fact. He will prune it from within us, even painfully so, for the good of His children.

But what if that’s a far too Manichean way of seeing things? It seems to me that 99% of politics as practiced historically was mostly identity politics, albeit colored, flavored, and morally informed by abstract ideals — including the truths of faith and reason.

When Charles Martel rallied the Gauls to defeat the Arabs, when Don John of Austria led Spaniards and Venetians to beat the Ottomans at Lepanto, and when Joan of Arc summoned Frenchmen to drive out the English pillagers … they were each relying on tribal loyalty and feudal fealty to a leader. Ditto for Winston Churchill and Charles De Gaulle. They traded mostly in visceral patriotism, in the service of higher ideals. Were those ideals rendered hateful to God because they relied on identity politics (“idolatry”)?

Tribalism Is the Foundation and the Basement. Don’t Buy a House Without One

Grace doesn’t destroy Nature, but builds on it. Our natural love of country and loyalty to our tribes are the wholesome foundation and basement of politics in every form. You don’t want to live forever in an unheated basement, of course. But neither can you build a sound house without one. An architect who is too high-minded to lay a foundation, too intent on ornamental roof-tiles, shouldn’t be designing your children’s school. No more than this guy should:

And what if political abstraction and ideology are just as dangerous in themselves as tribal narcissism? Remember that it was blood and soil Polish nationalism that finally brought down the abstract, ideal-driven Soviet system.

Sometimes God is perfectly willing to use “base” feudalism and build on it. What converted the Spanish Visigoths and the Franks in Gaul from Arianism which denied the divinity of Christ? Their kings and chieftains converted, and their followers all … followed. What won England, Russia and Scandinavia from paganism? Their kings accepted baptism, and their feudal liegemen followed suit. Are we going to say that the Christian cultures which resulted weren’t “real,” because they traced their foundation to something tribal, feudal, and “base”?

That’s what basements are supposed to be.


John Zmirak is a senior editor at The Stream and author or co-author of ten books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He is co-author with Jason Jones of “God, Guns, & the Government.”

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